On Student Blogs

There was an article on InsideHigherEd.com this week that piqued my interest. And mostly for what it lacked in content.

The post listed three ways in which colleges and universities could use student blogs: storytelling, advertorializing (not a word, BTW) and employability/digital literacy.

I pretty much disagree with this thesis across the board. What I do agree with, though, is the comment by Alert Reader Antoinette, who points out:

My personal view of student blogs is that often they are – sorry to be unkind – simply boring. No criticism of the students writing them – their effort and enthusiasm is more than apparent and commendable. But stories about personal experiences and interests are rarely relevant to the reader, nor do they seem actionable in any way. As you say, more could be done to get the most out of this medium.

And she gets a gold star.

Look, if you are marketing a college or university and someone says, “We need to have student bloggers because everyone else seems to have student bloggers or ‘I went to a conference and someone said I need student bloggers’ or we need student bloggers because adult bloggers cost too much,” please do us all a favor and get another job.

The point of student blogs, in my estimation, is to position them to entice prospective students to visit and then ultimately get excited about and apply to your institution. They need to be (1.) authentic, (2.) engaging, (3.) compelling and (4.) AUTHENTIC again, this time in bold caps.

When I started student-written blogs at a previous institution, I hand-picked my first crop of bloggers and tasked them with writing something new once a week. I did not give them any more direction than that. I also promised that, outside of spelling and grammar, I would not edit them and if they wanted to criticize the institution, they could present their case and I would have their backs.

It was a learning experience for all parties — including me, who, more than once, got yelled at by a dean or VP who didn’t like what they had read — but I earned the trust and respect of my writers by standing firm and by treating them like professionals, And all of those bloggers grew as storytellers by leaps and bounds and that blog was the most-read section of our website.

And, out of the myriad projects I conceived and managed during my near-decadelong tenure at that institution, it is the one that I am most proud of.

I Know What You Read Last Year

Here’s what you were reading on this site last year. Just the Top 5.

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Image: Richard Peter|Deutsche Fotothek/Wikimedia Commons

5. To Better Position Your College, Remove Word ‘College’ from Name?
Yet another spectacular fail from the world of highly paid branding and marketing consultants. This one is just beyond stupid — and the fact that an institution of higher education bought into it, well, it’s just beyond the pale.

4. He’s Baaack. The Ever-Buoyant Jonah Lehrer Bobs Up to the Surface Again
Lord, who knew Jonah Lehrer was going to be my own personal ‘bad penny?’ I was all set to do a sit-down interview with Lehrer as a bit of a puff piece for my then-employer when his “self-plagiarizing” scandal broke in 2012 and I got sucked into the drama. I’ve followed him since, just cause. Some topics never disappoint!

3. Branding is Killing Your Website
A cut from and a link to “New Thinking,” a regular e-thinkpiece from web guru Gerry McGovern. There’s no one who writes better and with more clarity and common sense on web topics than McGovern. No one.

2. About Mark Blackmon
Thanks for caring. By the way, a ranking at this level is either a good thing — “I want to know because this guy is interesting.” — or a bad thing — “Who in the hell is this clown?”

1. How Closing San Diego Opera Makes Your Life Worse
A private e-mail howler that one of the recipients asked me to put somewhere so that they could link to it. I did, and then provided a bit of context to the whole thing. And what do you know? It went viral in a very specific sector of the web almost immediately. The funny thing about it was that the original e-mailer that I replied to said that they received forwards of this thing by the hundreds because no one knew that I was replying to them in the first place! Or that we even knew each other, let alone that we’d been fast friends for decades. You can be anonymous on the web. You just have to be crafty!

Thanks for reading and writing and sharing. It’s a delight to interact with you. Happy New Year!

My Top Ten List from One Last Word

He’s Baaack. The Ever-Buoyant Jonah Lehrer Bobs Up to the Surface Again

This was the lede in John Warner’s Just Visiting blog on Inside Higher Ed recently:

To the surprise of no one, disgraced journalist and serial bullshitter Jonah Lehrer is back.

Jonah Lehrer. New and Improved Version? We'll see.|Image: Nina Subin/Slate

Jonah Lehrer. New and Improved Version? We’ll see.|Image: Nina Subin/Slate

I’ve been following the saga of Mr. Lehrer since the nascent days of this blog when I was quoted by Forbes.com about the early days of the then-breaking original scandal. (You should definitely place emphasis on the second syllable: skan-DAAHL!)

Lehrer is back to publishing, this time alongside Shlomo Benartzi, a UCLA behavioral economist and Lehrer’s co-author of the forthcoming book The Digital Mind: How We Think and Behave Differently on Screens.

Like Warner, I don’t believe Lehrer should be banned from publishing for life, but I do think that I’ll think twice about actually believing anything he has to say for quite a long time. Not saying ever; just saying a long time.

My first visit to Lehrer Land

A Follow-up

His First Reemergence

Warner’s Take on This Reemergence

Footnote to it all: I heard Lehrer on NPR over the weekend. One supposes that means he’s back for sure!

International Studies Association proposes to bar editors from blogging | Inside Higher Ed

International Studies Association proposes to bar editors from blogging | Inside Higher Ed.

Oh, this is hilarious! And absolutely typical of higher education.

I get in trouble when I stand up in front of higher education administrators and college presidents and tell them that their entire industry is out of step with the world. They take great umbrage. I am an infidel!

And I’m bloody right.

The simple fact is that colleges and universities are run by people who contemplate for a living. And, as such, they are always running behind. They are having this revelation today, but in reality, this question has been asked and answered a dozen years ago. But, because they have been busy contemplating, they do not realize this.

It is also why many institutions of higher learning should be run by management professionals instead of, you know, religion professors. It doesn’t make me too popular, some days, but I AM right!

H/T – Bill Tyson

The Beginner’s Guide to the Hashtag

The Beginner’s Guide to the Hashtag.

This is a pretty good reference piece from Mashable this morning. Plus, it links you to that hilarious Jimmy Fallon/Justin Timberlake video.

Hashtags are everywhere on social media, so you need to at least have a knowledge of them, even if you don’t use them too often.

BTW — Outside of the U.S., where # is generally called “the pound sign,” or Canada where it is generally called “the number sign,” # is generally referred to as a “hash mark.” In the U.K., of course, a “pound sign” would be this: £, which indicates their currency, the pound sterling.

So, there you have it: the international roots of the hashtag. Use it in #goodhealth.

Follow, Follow, Follow

Two points if you know what musical the title’s from! (If you don’t know, I’m going to box you severely around the ears!)

I’ve taken up a new full-time job recently and it may suck me dry, though I’m hoping to have time to continue to ruminate here on a regular basis.

I’ll have time to tweet more than blog, I think, at least for the first few months while I try to wrestle the unruly beast to the ground as I create a communications plan and communications system for this organization out of whole cloth. So, please follow me on the Twit at @markrblackmon.

Thanks for following, liking and commenting on the blog; I appreciate it. … Good God, it’s October. How did that happen???

Here’s what you miss by only talking to white men about the digital revolution and journalism

Here’s what you miss by only talking to white men about the digital revolution and journalism.| The Washington Post – The Switch blog

On Monday, Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on The Press, Politics and Public Policy and the Nieman Journalism Lab launched Riptide, a new project about the disruption of journalism by technology. The project bills itself as an “oral history of the epic collision between journalism and digital technology, from 1980 to the present.”

But looking at the final product and their list of sources, it appears that the project misses a key aspect of how the digital age disrupted traditional journalism: Digital advances, particularly the spread of the Internet and the rise of blogging, gave a powerful new way for voices marginalized in the elite journalism sphere to spread their stories.

I love this. And it’s so true. In journalism, certainly, but across the Western World in its entirety. Whenever you see a “captain of industry” that is anything other than a white man — more specifically, a white man 55+ — it’s a novelty. It’s true. It’s sad; but it’s true.

The project would have been stronger if it had done a better job of incorporating the perspective of female and minority voices. For example, one of the ways the digital age disrupted the journalism field was making it easier for marginalized voices to find audiences. 

Indeed. African-Americans, women, the LGBT community, Latinos — all groups that have been marginalized by the mainstream and all groups which have embraced the Internet with vigor. Who needs a white male out-of-step gatekeeper when you can produce your own content and get it to your constituents??

How the New York Times Can Fight BuzzFeed and Reinvent Its Future

How the New York Times can fight BuzzFeed & reinvent its future — Tech News and Analysis.

The NYT’s multimedia project Snow Fall was a huge success, attracting big audiences and lots of plaudits. But the paper can do even better — it can build a new business from this type of project, and change the definition of journalism in the new century.

A great piece by Om Malik on GigaOm that’s really worth a read. If you’re not familiar with Snow Fall, there’s a link in Malik’s piece. You really should check it out. As he notes, it’s a way to reinvent long format journalism using today’s technology. Absolutely the sensible way to go. Absolutely. Will big media choose to follow his lead? Not bloody likely.

Amazon Launches ‘Send to Kindle’ Button for Websites

Found an interesting article online but didn’t have time to read it? Don’t sweat it — just send it to your Kindle for later.

Amazon announced in a blog post yesterday a new button that any website can integrate called the “Send to Kindle.” The button lets users forward any pages using the service to their personal tablets with a single click.

via Amazon Launches ‘Send to Kindle’ Button for Websites.

Oh, snap! How fabulous is this? According to this report from Mashable, those of us who blog on WordPress will be able to add the button to our sites, too. Off to figure out how!

In-N-Out Merger

Does it feel like things are finally starting to turn a corner when it comes to online data privacy? It seems like a lot more people are starting to care about privacy, at least as an issue, if not as a personal ethic. Sure, some people are starting to use Facebook’s privacy settings, but because those things change all the damn time, it’s hard to tell whether that will make much of a lasting difference.

via In-N-Out Merger.

Good post on privacy and the use of information. A lot of interesting info, worth mulling over for a while.

H/T Freshly Pressed